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A House panel has approved a bill stating that religious officials don't have to perform same-sex marriages, a protection some believe is already guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The bill now goes to the full Judiciary committee for consideration. The measure known as the "Pastor Protection Act" is among at least eight bills seeking religious exemptions for same-sex marriage objectors. But it's the only bill backed by Speaker David Ralston, the House's top Republican.

Northbound traffic on I75-I85 headed Downtown
Alison Guillory / WABE

In 2015, there was an increase in Georgia traffic deaths. That was the first time in nearly a decade an increase like that was reported.

But, so far this year, the roadways appear to be safer, and that's a trend state officials like to see.

There were 20 fewer traffic deaths last month compared to January 2015, according to AAA. Despite the positive data, AAA reminds drivers to remain cautious behind the wheel and to take safety precautions such as always wearing a seat belt and leaving the cellphone alone. 

Ric Feld / Associated Press

A federal judge has ordered former Georgia state lawmaker Tyrone Brooks to pay back $250,000 to companies that donated to his charities. 

The companies included Coca-Cola and Northside Hospital. 

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Thursday ordered Tyrone Brooks to make the restitution payment, WGCL-TV reports. The Atlanta Democrat pleaded guilty in April to one count of filing a false tax document and no contest to five counts of mail and wire fraud.

He also has to pay back more than $8,000 to the IRS.

Military officials at Fort Stewart say numerous vehicles were destroyed and 40 to 50 people were displaced from housing areas when a tornado touched down on the Army base in southeast Georgia.

Fort Stewart officials said in a statement late Wednesday night that power had been restored to the installation, except for areas near Diamond Elementary School and some housing areas after the twister struck just before 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson said no injuries were reported.

Fort Stewart is the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River.

Alison Guillory / WABE

Hundreds of MARTA workers will soon be looking elsewhere for employment.

MARTA is expected to lay off 371 employees in March.

That's according to an announcement posted by the Georgia Department of Economic Development on the website WARN, which tracks upcoming layoffs and closures throughout the state.

The cuts affect workers from MARTA's paratransit service.

In November, MARTA officials voted in favor of hiring a private company to provide that service.

Alison Guillory / WABE

Expanding Atlanta's transit options would inject more than $5 billion into the economy and create thousands of jobs, according to a new report from the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Transportation Alliance. 

The report focuses on three proposed MARTA expansions: the Clifton corridor, Georgia 400, and along Interstate-20 Eastbound toward the Mall at Stonecrest. It also includes a fourth set of projects, yet to be named.

The chief executive of the Georgia Ports Authority said Wednesday he plans to step down this summer after leading the state agency during six years of explosive growth at the seaports of Savannah and Brunswick.

Curtis J. Foltz, the port authority's executive director, announced his decision during a specially called meeting of the agency's governing board. He plans to leave at the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with attendees during a campaign stop Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Milford, N.H.
Matt Rourke / Associated Press

As Georgia's March 1 presidential primary nears, Donald Trump's campaign is expanding in the state.

Right now, Trump and other candidates are focused on the New Hampshire primary contest next week.

But that attention will soon turn south for the South Carolina primary, and then the slew of states, including Georgia, that hold contests on March 1.

The Trump campaign announced this week it's opening headquarters in suburban Augusta, Valdosta and Brunswick. 

Ric Feld / Associated Press

The heavy rains have eased but a flash flood watch is still in effect until late Wednesday night.

This comes one day after tornadoes were reported in Mississippi and Alabama.

Some areas in the state saw more than three inches of rain today.

"We picked up almost 15 inches of rain in December, across the whole area.  So any additional rainfall that we were getting is just keeping the ground saturated, which allows trees with very short roots to start coming down," said George Wetzel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The mayor of a tiny Georgia town has been jailed on criminal charges after sheriff's deputies pulled him over for driving a city police cruiser.

John Dopson is the mayor of Jacksonville, Georgia, a town of about 140 residents located 90 miles southeast of Macon. Dopson was being held Tuesday at the Telfair County jail on charges of impersonating an officer and driving under the influence.

Sheriff Chris Steverson said Dopson was arrested Monday after residents complained they often saw him driving one of the city's two police cars as if it was his personal vehicle.

Ric Feld / Associated Press

Heavy rains made Wednesday morning's rush-hour traffic rough.

And the same is likely going to happen this afternoon.

A flash flood watch is in effect for much of North Georgia, including metro Atlanta.

"Up at Fulton County Airport  they had 1.51 inches of rain (in a six-hour period this morning), and at Peachtree-DeKalb Airport, just shy of an inch has fallen," said George Wetzel, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

Elly Yu / WABE

This week, the state Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit by some Georgia students who were brought to this country illegally, when they were children. They wanted to pay in-state rates for college tuition because they live here and have legal protection against deportation under the federal program Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals -- often called DACA.   But the court found the Board of Regents has legal protection of its own -- a shield against lawsuits like this.  It's an old legal concept called sovereign immunity.

Joe Howell / Associated Press

Gregg Allman, a longtime Georgia resident, is heading back to the stage.

The "Laid Back Festival" kicks off May 7 in Atlanta. Aside from Allman's namesake band other acts signed on to play include Michelle Malone, Blackberry Smoke and ZZ Top.

Other stops on the tour include Nashville, Chicago and New York.

Tickets for the Atlanta show go on sale Friday.   

Charles Jones / WABE

Georgia executed a 72-year-old man, the state's oldest death row inmate, early Wednesday for the killing of a convenience store manager during a robbery decades ago.

Brandon Astor Jones was pronounced dead at 12:46 a.m. Wednesday after an injection of barbiturate pentobarbital at the state prison in Jackson. He was convicted in the 1979 shooting death of suburban Atlanta store manager Roger Tackett.

A display of many different versions of the Super Soaker on a table
Alison Guillory / WABE

Fulton County is hosting the African-American Inventor’s Exhibit at Welcome All Park on Feb. 4. 

The exhibit displays 26 inventions by several African-Americans in alphabetical order, “in order to increase awareness for African-American inventors and their contributions to the United States,” according to a press release.

The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Demolition is slated Wednesday for an Atlanta house that preservationists say is historic.

Dallas Clement, who bought the Maddox House in November, plans to have it demolished Wednesday.

The Maddox House, which was built in 1937 in Atlanta’s Tuxedo Park neighborhood, has no official historic recognition.

And Mark McDonald, CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, says that’s precisely the problem.

David Goldman / Associated Press

More than 140 businesses and residents who live near the Atlanta BeltLine have pitched in to help light up the dark areas of the Eastside Trail. 

Atlanta BeltLine Partnership Executive Director Chuck Meadows said the organization's first crowdfunding campaign, Light The Line, has raised more than $111,500 so far. 

Police say they made several arrests during protests at two Georgia college campuses over how state universities treat people living in the U.S. illegally.

Six protesters were arrested on misdemeanor trespassing charges at the University of Georgia in Athens, while a similar protest at Georgia State University in Atlanta resulted in eight arrests. The demonstrations followed a Georgia Supreme Court decision Monday against several people brought into the country illegally as children who were seeking in-state tuition.

Georgia's groundhog, General Beauregard Lee, has predicted an early spring for the Southeast.

Officials at the Yellow River Game Ranch in metro Atlanta say the groundhog awoke Tuesday morning and didn't see his shadow, which indicates an early end to winter. Groundhogs in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New York made the same prediction.

According to tradition, if the groundhog sees its shadow on Feb. 2, winter will last another six weeks. If not, spring comes early.

Al Such / WABE

First came the roundabout. Then there was the divided diamond interchange. Now, Johns Creek officials hope to introduce Georgia drivers to the “Thru-Turn.”

The city is considering the Thru-Turn for the junction of State Bridge and Medlock Bridge roads, which currently sees some 100,000 cars daily.

“That’s a lot of cars to go through two four-lanes,” says Tom Udell, deputy director of public works for Johns Creek.

The Thru-Turn is also known as the "Michigan Left." It got its start in that state in the 1960s and has proliferated there ever since.

Corrections officials in Georgia are preparing to execute the state's oldest death row inmate.

Brandon Astor Jones, who's 72, is scheduled to be put to death by injection of the barbiturate pentobarbital at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Jackson. He was convicted in the 1979 shooting death of Cobb County convenience store manager Roger Tackett.

A federal judge in 1989 granted Jones a new sentencing hearing because jurors had improperly been allowed to bring a Bible into the deliberation room. He was resentenced to death in 1997.

A powerful Senate committee discussed but took no action on a contentious bill allowing religious adoption agencies, schools, government workers and others to refuse same-sex couples without penalty.

The Senate Rules committee held a 15-minute hearing Monday on the proposal from state Sen. Greg Kirk, a Republican from Americus. The committee decides which bills receive a full Senate vote.

Kirk says the bill would not allow public employees to avoid job tasks, including clerks issuing marriage licenses.

Forecasters say damaging winds and isolated tornadoes will be possible with thunderstorms expected to move into Georgia Tuesday night.

The National Weather Service said the highest risk of severe thunderstorms Tuesday night will be in northwest Georgia, around Dalton, Ringgold, Rome and Trenton. The weather service's Storm Prediction Center classifies the risk in that area as slight.

Forecasters say parts of Alabama will be at a greater, "enhanced" risk of storms earlier Tuesday, before the system moves into Georgia.

A metro Atlanta high school's new reliance on iPads for classroom work is raising concerns among some parents that students without the technology could get left behind.

Walton High School is directing parents of its nearly 2,600 students to buy iPads for their children to use in classroom assignments starting this month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Cobb County school officials say they're making some iPads available for check-out for students who can't afford them, but they've said those devices can only be used at school and can't be taken home.

The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles plans to consider a clemency request from the state's oldest death row inmate.

The board plans to hold a hearing on the request from Brandon Astor Jones on Monday. The 72-year-old is scheduled for execution at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the state prison in Jackson.

The parole board is the only entity in Georgia with the authority to commute a death sentence.

Jones was convicted in the 1979 killing of Cobb County convenience store manager Roger Tackett.

The King Center in Atlanta, GA
Al Such / WABE

The origin of Black History Month goes as far back as 1915.

Historian Carter G. Woodson joined forces with A. L. Jackson and three others to create a week of promoting and celebrating black history. February was chosen to commemorate the birthdays of two figures important to black history: President Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The first weeklong celebration occurred in 1926. Over the years, the weeklong celebration expanded to a month.

Marietta Daily Journal, Kelly J. Huff, Pool / Associated Press file

A judge is allowing prosecutors to use key evidence collected by police in the case of a Georgia man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son to die in a hot SUV.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley ruled the state can use evidence from Justin Ross Harris' phone and computer, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Attorneys for Harris wanted the judge to bar the evidence from trial. They say police went on a "fishing expedition" using overly broad warrants.

GSU Winter 2015
Alison Guillory / WABE

The president of Georgia State University says the library on its main campus in downtown Atlanta will be temporarily closed to the public to install new security measures after a series of robberies inside the library.

Georgia State President Mark Becker said in a statement that security cameras will also be added at the library and more police will patrol campus.

Campus police said the latest crime occurred Thursday morning, when two students reported being robbed of their laptops at gunpoint.

Lawyers for an inmate set to die in days are asking a conflicted federal appeals court to weaken Georgia's law that keeps secret the source of the state's lethal injection drug. It's the toughest of a number of secrecy laws passed in recent years by death penalty states eager to stabilize their execution drug supplies.

States say the laws protect companies that fear retaliation for their association with the death penalty. Most were enacted after drug manufacturers, many of them in Europe, stopped selling their products for executions, citing ethical concerns.

Roger Newton / Youth Today/JJIE

It was the fake $100 bill that finally landed Corey Roberts in prison. He’d already had one close call, getting picked up for marijuana possession at the end of his freshman year in college. 

By the middle of his sophomore year, he and some friends were selling pot too. Then one of their buddies passed a rival dealer the bogus Benjamin.

That led to a beatdown that drew the attention of campus police and an 18-­month stretch behind bars, including nine months in a prison drug treatment program where controlled substances were almost as common as they were outside.

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